Story and photos by JEFFREY POWELL
The North Florida Fair Association has announced that the Bolen family of New Harmony has been chosen the 2010 Farm Family of the Year. The family of five boys, along with their parents Bill and Melissa, reside on a 25-acre spread affectionally named Welcome Home Farm. The group has taken on the farm life wholeheartedly and is working to become as self-sufficiant as possible.
“I was shocked and stunned when we heard the news we were selected for this award,” said Melissa Bolen. “We are humbled and thankful. Thankful that all our hard work has paid off.”
The Bolens raise sheep, goats, cows, chickens and other fowl in part to make money and to supplement their own diet. They especially enjoy the fact that their animals are not treated with hormones and other chemicals like most readily available commercial products. The chickens provide both eggs and meat for the dinner table. Their Gulf Coast sheep provide wool fiber renowned by spinners as one of the highest quality fibers available.
Both Melissa and Bill are highly educated and have worked on Eglin Air Force Base. Melissa gave up her job to raise her children on the farm and Bill still commutes to Eglin.
“I gave up a lucrative career to live this lifestyle and raise my children in this atmosphere,” Melissa said retrospectively. “Being on the farm was part of a master plan, both of us wanted to raise our children in this environment. The value of the family is what is important. My husband is very supportive, none of this would be possible without his complete dedication to this endeavor. Also, the 4-H program has been very helpful to the boys, It gives them an opportunity to do public speaking and helps educate them concerning our farming lifestyle.”
The Farm Family of the Year program is designed to spotlight the leadership accomplishments of farm families throughout north Florida. It honors their dedication and commitment to agriculture in this region of the state and their superior values.
“This family exemplifies the farm life,” said Interim Walton County Extension Service Director Mike Goodchild. “They are one of the few families that are attempting to be self-sufficiant in an environmentally friendly way. They provide healthy living through their farming practices. Their example proves you don’t have to be a large land owner to live the farming lifestyle.”
The Bolens’ five boys, Raymond, Justin, Jesse, Timmy and Mike are home schooled and do the majority of the work on the Welcome Home Farm. This too was part of Melissa’s “master-plan.” When asked how he felt about having to go to work while everyone else was able to stay home Bill responded without a moment’s hesitation.
“This life is a dream come true,” he said with a smile.